Retrofitting accessibility: The legal inequality of after-the-fact online access for persons with disabilities in the United States


  • Brian Wentz Frostburg State University
  • Paul T Jaeger University of Maryland
  • Jonathan Lazar Towson University



Accessibility, disability, law, information policy


Despite the significant advantages that access to information and communication technology has made to many of our lives, the related benefits, opportunities and even equalizing effect of this technology are often not accessible or only partially accessible to a growing portion of the global population. Current disability rights laws which are supposed to exist for the protection and well–being of individuals with disabilities are often too close to the heart of the problem, as they can actually promote a separate but unequal online environment. If current U.S. laws were revised to encourage born–accessible technology and there was consistent enforcement of such laws, the online experience of millions of individuals with disabilities could be drastically improved. This article examines the aspects of the current laws that perpetuate a separate but unequal online environment, discussing past and current examples of such inequity. It also contrasts the structure of current U.S. disability rights laws with other civil rights legislation and offers a set of policy recommendations that could have a positive impact on accessibility.

Author Biographies

Brian Wentz, Frostburg State University

Brian Wentz, D.Sc., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Information Technologies at Frostburg State University. His research interests include human computer interaction, accessibility, user-centered design, social computing, policy implications of accessibility and usability, and making business practices more accessible. Dr. Wentz has a Master?s degree in Information Systems from Penn State University and a Doctorate in Information Technology from Towson University.

Paul T Jaeger, University of Maryland

Paul T. Jaeger, Ph.D., J.D., is Assistant Professor and Co-Director of the Information Policy and Access Center ( in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. Dr. Jaeger?s research focuses on the ways in which law and public policy shape information behavior. He is the author of more than one hundred journal articles and book chapters, along with seven books. His most recent books are Information Worlds: Social Context, Technology, and Information Behavior in the Age of the Internet (Routledge, 2010) with Gary Burnett; and Public Libraries and the Internet: Roles, Perspectives, and Implications (Libraries Unlimited, 2011) with John Carlo Bertot and Charles R. McClure; and Disability and the Internet: Confronting a Digital Divide (Lynne Reiner, 2011). His research has been funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Science Foundation, the American Library Association, the Smithsonian Institute, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Dr. Jaeger is the Associate Editor of Library Quarterly and Co-Editor of the Information Policy Book Series from MIT Press.

Jonathan Lazar, Towson University

Jonathan Lazar, Ph.D., is a Professor of Computer and Information Sciences, Director of the Undergraduate Program in Information Systems and Director of the Universal Usability Laboratory, all at Towson University. Dr. Lazar is involved in teaching and research in the area of human-computer interaction - specifically, Web usability, Web accessibility, user-centered design methods, assistive technology and public policy in the area of human-computer interaction. He has published 5 books, including Research Methods in Human-Computer Interaction (2010, John Wiley and Sons), Universal Usability: Designing Computer Interfaces for Diverse User Populations (2007, John Wiley and Sons), and Web Usability: A User-Centered Design Approach (2006, Addison-Wesley). He serves on the editorial boards of Interacting with Computers, Universal Access in the Information Society, and ACM Interactions Magazine, and serves on the executive board of the Friends of the Maryland Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Dr. Lazar was named a winner of the 2011 University System of Maryland Regents Award for Public Service, and a winner of the 2010 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind. Dr. Lazar currently serves as the chair of public policy for ACM SIGCHI (Computer-Human Interaction).




How to Cite

Wentz, B., Jaeger, P. T., & Lazar, J. (2011). Retrofitting accessibility: The legal inequality of after-the-fact online access for persons with disabilities in the United States. First Monday, 16(11).